A Guide to Living Gluten-Free in Gainesville

Food is an inevitable enjoyment for all people, but when you are restricted from eating certain foods, it can become a challenge. This past summer after being told I had a wheat allergy that caused me to have stomach issues, I embarked on a gluten-free journey, which has been far from simple. At home, surprisingly it was not easy to find restaurants and grocery stores that had gluten-free options, but Gainesville has a lot to offer.

If you’re not an avid chef (like me), there are plenty of restaurants and stores that will help you maintain a gluten-free diet. This past summer, Bolay opened its doors, and everything on their menu is certified gluten-free and safe for people with Celiac disease. They have a lot of protein and veggie options to support a healthy lifestyle while avoiding food allergies. Not to mention, the chocolate chip cookies are amazing!

Another store that made its way to Gainesville this summer is Whole Foods. Although it tends to be overpriced, the quality of its grocery and prepared foods is worth your money. Whole Foods’ website lists some baked goods that are gluten-free and some recipes and tips for staying away from items containing gluten. In their prepared foods section, they have pre-baked frozen chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes that are all safe from gluten, and the hot foods are labeled with allergens they contain. I usually double check with the chefs at the prepared foods bar to make sure there were no issues with cross-contamination before trying them. My go-to Whole Foods meal is a veggie-loaded salad from their salad bar, and those items are mostly safe from gluten.

When I have a busy day with class, I usually stay at my apartment and try to cook dinner, so I’m not spending money going out every day. Since returning to UF, I have found that Trader Joe’s has a lot of options for gluten-free groceries, and it is a lot less expensive than most grocery stores in the area. I avoid frozen meals since they have high levels of sodium and overall are not the best option if you want a healthy meal. Recently, I have been making a personal-size pizza with gluten-free pizza crust, pesto, spinach, diced tomatoes, feta and mozzarella cheese. If I have had lunch that day, I can usually get two meals out of one pizza, and it is surprisingly tasty! You can always mix it up and add more ingredients or change the sauce to a traditional red sauce, but either way, it is an excellent option for people on a budget or if you really want a pizza fix. Trader Joe’s also has other gluten-free items including a brownie mix for when your sweet tooth kicks in around exam time!

If you don’t want to stray off campus or need a meal in between classes, there are still options on campus that are gluten-free. Chick-Fil-A has a good list of items (including a gluten-free bun and the waffle fries!) that are safe, but unfortunately, their grilled chicken is the only meat option that is gluten-free. If you’re still craving something fried, just ask if the chicken can be cooked in their gluten-free fryer, which is separate from the rest of the food. My favorite meal to get there is the Grilled Market Salad, and of course, some of the iconic waffle fries to go with it.

Another on-campus alternative is checking out the P.O.D. Markets, which sell some gluten-free nutritional bars, chips, fruit and crackers. My favorite things to buy there are the KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate bars, and they usually keep me full from my 12 p.m. class until I go back to my apartment for dinner. Unlike typical energy bars, these do not have an overpowering protein taste that is associated with most bars.

Adjusting to a gluten-free lifestyle takes a lot of time and effort and usually is done on a trial-and-error basis. Many food items may not explicitly state they do not have gluten, nor is it listed on the ingredients list, so it is essential to research the brands before buying their products. ShopWell is an app that has helped me immensely to find safe products while grocery shopping.  You simply input your food allergies, scan the item's barcode with your camera, and it will give you a detailed list of the ingredients and notify you if it is safe to consume. You can also scan your receipt and save it for later when you need to repurchase items.

No matter your college lifestyle, going gluten-free is not going to be the end of the world. But it is important to pay attention to signs of gluten sensitivity, so you can get the care you need and kick-start a healthier life!